Against Me!

White Crosses

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Against Me!'s major-label debut, New Wave, was their bid into the mainstream music scene, landing them on major festival bills and earning them the praise of national magazines. It was a record with more rock polish than grit thanks to producer Butch Vig, and when longtime drummer Warren Oakes later left and was replaced by former Hot Water Music skinsman George Rebelo, it was pretty clear that their follow-up would even further mark a new chapter for the band -- a new lineup, a new energy. But what couldn't be known was just how much of a progression it would be. White Crosses is a big-sounding album with a blue-collar soul, but though the guitars may aim for the rafters alongside lofty, singalong choruses, the songwriting ultimately comes off safer and more commonplace than anything they've done yet. The title track never really hits, and the pointed "I Was a Teenage Anarchist" has Tom Gabel slamming the door on his anarcho-punk past with a wide-open chorus that could use a little more heft. Gone are any traces of the gutsy folk-punk that once made them so exciting; the record's arena-ready tone is set by expansive numbers like "Spanish Moss," a gleaming plea to starting over, and "Because of the Shame," where piano dramatics hug a huge chorus that should make the Springsteen devotees of the last few years (the Gaslight Anthem, Hold Steady, Killers) plenty jealous -- but cause longtime fans to do a double take. The latter song is actually one of the record's strongest tracks, though, once the shock of its existence subsides. Elsewhere, "Ache with Me" saunters a slow, window-gazing pace that dulls the record's middle, "Suffocation" is easily forgotten, and the spitfire "Rapid Decompression" is a nice jolt of electricity at the record's end, but it's too little, too late. Gabel spent a lot of time looking back and reflecting for this record -- on his youth in Florida, on past relationships, on where he stands now. The resulting album is thus one of growth, disillusion, defeat, and the struggle to come to terms with ideals once held onto so strongly and the realities of growing up and apart from those beliefs. Yet as Against Me! explore their past, they apparently also aim to leave it far behind them. Politics sneak into some songs (most notably in the agitated "High Pressure Low"), but the guys largely seem burnt out on protesting, which is understandable, but it's too bad that the raw intensity in Gabel's voice had to be sacrificed as well. Ultimately, White Crosses is not Against Me!'s finest hour, though it's certainly not their worst. Bands grow up, get restless, and continue developing with every album, so it's not the soul-searching and progression that brings on the disappointment -- it's that the bandmembers seem to have done so by completely turning their backs on their past.

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